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Laramie Movie Scope:
Sweet Sixteen

A tough, tragic tale of lost innocence

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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January 11, 2004 -- This is a tough-as-nails, tragic portrayal of Liam (played by Martin Compston), a 15-year-old youth in Scotland trying to find a place for his mother, Jean (Michelle Coulter) to live when she gets out of prison. Liam hopes that if he can find a nice house for her maybe she will no longer hang out with her old drug-dealing friends and maybe she won't end up back in prison again.

Liam and his pal, Pinball (William Ruane) try selling cheap, illegal cigarettes and other items, but they aren't making money fast enough. Liam wants to buy a house by the time Jean is released, on his 16th birthday. The two turn to selling drugs, which seems to be the main industry in this small town near Glasgow (it was filmed in Greenock and Port Glasgow). The two get so good at it, that they attract the notice of a local drug dealer, who recruits them to work for him. Liam is getting close to his goal of being able to afford a house for his mother. The question is, does Jean want the life her son is so determined to arrange for her? Pinball is also getting angry because Liam is much smarter and more successful than he is. He comes to resent Liam's single-minded determination to make a home for his mother.

Liam's sister, Chantelle (Annmarie Fulton) wants nothing to do with her mother and she warns Liam to steer clear of her too. Chantelle is, in many ways, the real head of the family. Jean's drug-dealing father, Rab (Tommy McKee) and boyfriend, Stan (Gary McCormack of “The Gangs of New York”) seem determined to drag Jean down. Liam thinks he can save Jean from this fate, but he may be blind to the truth. He has wrapped up so many expectations around an idealized home life. He thinks he can accomplish all these goals simply by obtaining a house. Liam's strategy of using drug money to help get his mother away from the bad influence of drug dealers is an ill-conceived and ironic plan. The corruption he undergoes by associating with drug dealers is both extreme and tragic.

Although most of the principle actors in the film had no acting experience prior to this film, their performances are extremely moving and effective. Director Ken Loach (“Bread And Roses”) selected people from the area where the movie was filmed to play many of the key roles in the film. Loach's experience in documentary films was brought to bear on the project as well. Improvisation played a key role in filming many scenes. Actors said most of the time they felt as though they were being themselves, rather than acting. Whatever the methods that Loach employed, the performances seemed very natural and very convincing. The Scottish accents of the actors were so thick, subtitles are needed to understand them (unless you happen to speak the same way). This film is available on video. I saw it on VHS tape and it came with subtitles. The story is extremely powerful. This is a very depressing film, but also very well crafted. Unforgettable characters form the backbone of the tragic, character-driven plot. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in video and/or DVD format, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2004 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)